The palate refers to the roof of your mouth. It is made of bone and muscle and is covered by a thin, wet skin that forms the red covering inside the mouth. Its purpose is to separate your nose from your mouth. The palate has an extremely important role in speech. When you talk, it prevents air from blowing out of your nose instead of your mouth. The palate is also important when eating, as it prevents food and liquids from going up into the nose.
As in cleft lip, a cleft palate occurs in early pregnancy when separate areas of the face have developed individually do not join together properly. A cleft palate occurs when there is an opening in the roof of the mouth. Its purpose is to separate your nose from your mouth. The back of the palate is called the soft palate, and the front is referred to as the hard palate. A cleft palate can range from just an opening at the back of the soft palate to a nearly complete separation of the roof of the mouth (soft and hard palate).
In some cases, a baby with a cleft palate may have a small chin, and a few babies with this combination may have difficulties breathing. This condition is referred to as Pierre Robin sequence.
Since the lip and palate develop separately, it is possible for a child to be born with a cleft lip, palate or both. Cleft defects occur in approximately one out of every 800 births.
Children born with either, or both, of these conditions typically need the skills of several professionals to manage the problems associated with the defect, including feeding, speech, hearing and psychological development. In most cases, surgery is recommended. When surgery is done by an experienced, qualified oral and maxillofacial surgeon the results can be very positive. The OMS Specialists surgeons serve on the Cleft Lip and Palate teams at the Minneapolis Children’s Hospital and the University of Minnesota.